Fueling the Next Media Evolution: Lessons for Pandemic Filmmaking

Last year inextricably altered the ways that we connect, collaborate, and create. While physical distance poses some challenges (and likely many disappointments), it also translated into new forms of pandemic filmmaking and creating content for the niche and mass audiences alike.

These days, remote and distributed efforts are not longer the exception. They are the norm, and this will continue in some form indefinitely. Whether you’re an independent producer or a Netflix savant, pandemic producing has changed the ways we reach our audiences.

Most acutely, it’s an opportunity to innovate. 2020 took too many things from us, but we can also take lessons from the year to chart a better path forward as we embark on a new age of production, media consumption, engagement and connection.

Pandemic Filmmaking

Pandemic Filmmaking Requires Bravery & Innovation

Laughter can’t replace a vaccine, but it can help the audience navigate this unfamiliar and destabilizing time and can be truly healing from a mental wellness perspective. This is something that Howdy Stranger, a comedy troupe performing monthly interactive improv shows in Hackensack, NJ, since 2008, experienced first hand.

When the pandemic closed theaters, the original idea was to recreate the show on Zoom. Then, the troupe’s lead, Ryan Huban, had a better idea for pandemic filmmaking. “I decided to task each performer to begin writing and producing their own comedy videos from home without any assistance other than from members of their own household,” Huban explains.

For the first time, circumstances prompted Howdy Stranger to bring their content online. The result was transformative. Reflecting, Huban notes, “For the first time in 12 years, people can view, share, and comment on my videos, some of which have gone viral with over half a million views.” Pandemic producing required moving the medium, which heightened audience engagement and increased opportunities.

Don’t Wait For A Pandemic

Don’t wait for a pandemic and forced lockdowns to explore online platforms. These provide an outlet to expand your network, audiences, and collaborators. If your only performance medium in the past required in-person audiences, it’s definitely time to consider possibilities for pandemic filmmaking. We live in an internet-connected world where everyone from kindergarteners to great-grandparents know how to get on Zoom or YouTube.

Hindsight may be 2020, literally and figuratively. And as we navigate the coming months and years to come, the innovations coupled with technology and creative ingenuity are catalyzing a media evolution that will create new content, fans and opportunities never before imaginable.

We’re living in what many people coin as “the new normal”. But successful content creators, those living and working in their art form with any possible means, are never focused on ‘the normal’ and are inventing today what will be the new media of tomorrow.

We Were Ready To Pitch

Production backlogs and economic uncertainty make pitching new projects for independent producers especially challenging right now. In the case of our team at Upward Media Partners, we had just commemorated the completion of our first year focused on research and development.

We were finally ready to pitch numerous scripts we’d spent the greater part of 2019 developing. However, just as we were ready to go to market, the marketplace closed. Shows were halted. On-site meetings were cancelled. Even by mid-year, when some regions did start to re-open, many potential buyers were interested in hearing our pitches. But they had too much backlog to pursue new opportunities. We were encouraged to return in six months.

Ultimately, we decided that the market’s temporary shift doesn’t mean that our work can’t continue progressing. So we sought out alternative platforms and mediums as a real opportunity to build anticipation and demonstrate efficacy in a difficult environment.

Produce A Podcast

Producing a podcast series is a cost-effective way to develop stories and validate audience interest. It helped us build momentum toward bigger projects. Producing our projects as narrative podcast series before film development is the most available medium for the moment.

Temporarily innovating in new directions is a strategic way to support your long-term business model. As a stand up comedian and actor, Brittany Hanrahan was a regular in comedy clubs throughout the West. She performed stand up and sketch comedy for live audiences. But when the pandemic hit, she immediately needed to innovate. Hanrahan went to the beach.

She began performing a live comedy show, aptly titled “2020’s a Beach,” on the waterfront. Describing the new format, Hanrahan explains, “I chose the beach so people could come to enjoy a show and still practice social distancing.” For Hanrahan, the pandemic prompted her to pursue her creativity in new and novel ways. “I realized that life is short and I should set out and do the things I’ve always wanted to. So I started my own comedy show. I would never have done an outdoor show otherwise.”

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ARTICLE BY Kathy Berardi

Kathy Berardi is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television MFA program in Screenwriting. In roles as a producer and writer, Berardi has created numerous award-winning short films, and branded content. Currently she has several scripted, multi-media and podcast projects in development at Upward Media Partners with producing partner Walter Richardson. Her empathy-driven filmmaking style guides her team to bring classic stories to life from new perspectives, empowering underrepresented voices and narratives that encourage audiences to embrace each other by embracing the story of another. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.